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BWW Review: VALUE ENGINEERING SCENES FROM THE GRENFELL INQUIRY, The Tabernacle

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A verbatim play drawing on statements from the Grenfell Inquiry shocks and dismays in equal measure

BWW Review: VALUE ENGINEERING SCENES FROM THE GRENFELL INQUIRY, The Tabernacle BWW Review: VALUE ENGINEERING SCENES FROM THE GRENFELL INQUIRY, The Tabernacle We sit a ten minute walk away from Grenfell Tower and, within moments, there's a stillness in the room that suggests some people in here were "there". In Miki Jablkowska's and Matt England's perfectly designed space, two podia face each other with a Chair (a judge in profession and function) presiding, and us, lights up, sat in rows observing. The discourse immediately assumes a procedural, legalistic mien - and it stays like that since everything we hear was heard at the Inquiry (still ongoing) itself.

Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicholas Kent have taken extracts for statements and documents (there's something very chilling about the projections we see of emails, emails just like ours in our jobs, but with stakes so very much higher) and crafted a narrative that shows but does not explain what happened - at least, not explicitly - in the years leading up to the fire and on that terrible night.

Ron Cook as Richard Millett QC sets the pace with the polite aggression that characterises a barrister's work, setting traps that hardly need a spring, so hapless and arrogant are so many of the witnesses he questions. You can really take your pick of who is the sorriest (though often not actually sorry) of the bunch - Phill Langhorne is particularly impressive as the contract manager and Tim Lewis catches the breezy off-handedness of the lead architect inducing a crawling across the skin.

Rachael Venables of LBC has done a fine job reporting on the Inquiry, an event shamefully low on the most of the media's agendas, so I had previously heard a couple of the more emotional contributions, especially the heartfelt apology of a broken man, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's Senior Building Control Officer and the near-breakdown of the project manager for the Tenant Management Organisation. Those moments lose nothing in being dramatised.

We hear only one black voice, Leslie Thomas QC, acting for a residents group, who quotes James Baldwin and sets the disaster in the wider context of pervasive racism - the vast majority of victims are persons of colour. But maybe that underlines a key point made in the supporting exhibition of photographs - these white, largely middle-class, men and women whom we see are here to tell their side of the story, to continue to take charge, to persistently not listen. The victims are not.

The immediate cause of the inferno was the cladding 'value engineered' into the project to save a bit of money - in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea remember - but there's a wider point that also comes across. The residents of Grenfell Tower might as well have lived on Mars for all the contact they had with those lording it over them, people who send their children to different schools, use different shops and consider the homes of hundreds of their fellow human beings 'an eyesore'. Cities have always had such side-by-side and ostracised communities (and, in some ways, such differences can be crucial in preserving identities in a multicultural environment) but the 21st century's diminishing stocks of empathy lead to a contempt, an unabashed contempt, on the part of those hoarding power towards those at their mercy.

The play finishes with a warning from 2010. A fire broke out at Grenfell, and resident, Salman Khan clearly stated what would happen if nothing was done. What was done actually made the risk even greater (but, let's be fair, the tower was less of an eyesore) and 72 men, women and children paid with their lives.

BWW Review: VALUE ENGINEERING SCENES FROM THE GRENFELL INQUIRY, The Tabernacle

Value Engineering Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry is at The Tabernacle until 13 November and then at Birmingham Rep until 20 November


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